The Australian Jewish community was born with the arrival of the first white settlers in 1788. Only in 1788 did Jews constitute more than one per cent of the total colonial community, and this was because most of the convicts sent out in the First Fleet were selected from the prisons of London. 

It took until 1821 for the first Jewish free settlers to arrive. By 1828, there were 100 Jews in the colony. Numbers in the Jewish community continued to grow. The first synagogue was formally established in 1837. By 1841 there were 1083 free Jewish settlers in the country. The 1841 census shows that New South Wales Jewry accounted for 65.3 % of the Australian Jewish population and 0.57% of the total Australian population. 

The Gold Rush of the 1850s attracted a sizable number of Jewish immigrants. Census figures show that between 1851 and 1861, the Jewish community almost tripled in size to 5486. Many prominent Australian families can trace their ancestry to these times. By 1901 the Jewish population had exceeded 15,000, the majority being from Britain. 

An outstanding feature of Jewish life in Australia has been the normality of Jewish life. Organised Jewish communities flourished in numerous provincial towns, as well as in Sydney and Melbourne. 

The first congregation in Sydney took up home in the first purpose-built synagogue, which was on York Street, in 1844. In 1878 the Great Synagogue was consecrated, and its imposing structure remains a historic feature of the cityscape, the building being restored for the Bicentenary in 1988.  

The initial dramatic changes and evolution of Sydney Jewry are due largely to the arrival of refugees escaping Nazi Europe in 1938-39. Click here for more information.  A further influx of Holocaust survivors after the war revitalised the community and led to the establishment of a large number of suburban synagogues.  

Further waves of immigrants from Hungary in the mid-1950s, Russia, Israel and South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s continued to enrich the community. It today comprises more than 27 Orthodox synagogues, three Progressive synagogues and, six Jewish schools (Emanuel School, Kesser Torah College, Masada College, Moriah College, Mount Sinai College and Yeshiva College).. 

Reference: University of Sydney Archive of Judaica